Exhibition of works about Debrecen from the painter Imre Égerházi
Hajdúhadház (the nourishing hometown and creative house refuge), Debrecen (a bustling city and art center), Hortobágy (the focal point of the energies that have been flowing since the founding of the creative camp there, and an infinite space of inspiration) all intertwined within the life and art of Imre Égerházi, so much that they exist as a triangle of order of his grandiose activities.
This symbolic field was transformed into a rectangle with Cívis International Artists’ Colony of Hajdúszoboszló (he was one of the founders); the Transylvanian landscapes, the mountains of Gheorgheni, the Csángó villages gave his artistic work the mental and spiritual protective lap, the faithfulness of the relatives’ roots; the outlook, the serious adventure, the possibility of another international art organization was offered by the French St. Michel, Bessans, and Thiérache, but we could list the corner points all over the world almost endlessly.
Numerous memorial exhibitions, including more than one thematic exhibition, have evoked the prestigious legacy of the artist in the 5 and a half years since his death. Here we can mention the performances of the Djabe band’s special album inspired by Égerházi paintings, the album Sheafs Are Dancing, combined with art exhibitions (the band’s lead is one of the artist’s sons, Attila Égerházi). Or the collection of images from Shumen, the commemorative exhibitions entitled 80 years 40 images for the 80th anniversary of his birth, the material of the Imre Égerházi Memorial House handed over in Hajdúhadház in 2003, the unusual exhibition in the capital, the collection of human representations, the paintings of the Hungarian Great Plain.
When we talk about Imre Égerházi’s paintings in Debrecen, we can interpret this “patriotism for the city” a little more broadly. Not only are the paintings and panels reminiscent of the built environment and famous figures of the town, but also the pictorial documents of the geographical and intellectual area of attraction (for example, Hortobágy, Hajdúság).
Somewhere this connection was also illustrated by the series of panels made by 18 artists of the Hortobágy creative camp in the Szálló Hajós Alfréd Hall of the Aranybika Hotel, pieces of which dealt with the historical past of the city, great persons, famous writers and poets, showing the timelessness of Hortobágy, its flora and fauna, and the people living there. In his large-scale work as part of this series, Imre Égerházi focused on Zsigmond Móricz, in whose paternal gaze coerced intellectuals and farmers, citizens and peasants, human destinies showing in facial emblems.
And of course you can’t forget Sándor Petőfi, Gyula Krúdy and Endre Ady (the artist was inspired not only by Ady’s figure or love, Léda, but also by several other of his poems), Miklós Káplár (a grand talent from “Böszörmény”), and he also approached the heritage of Mihály Csokonai Vitéz, along multiple genres.
He looked for an example in almost every theme, the guiding stakes, both intellectual and value-wise. On the one hand, he simplified the motifs and figures into ethereal purity, but at the same time he condensed space and time. In the subtly ornate, constructive order of its figural, motivational, or ornamental elements, the folklore that has just strengthened the processed theme and the educated mind are organically connected, with the naturalness of the lean order and playful charm radiated by the love confession of folk songs.
His shapes and landscapes, streets and houses can be recognized and identified in their material reality, but the expression of the atmosphere and inner harmony is much more exciting. József Bényei classified this magic, the ability of uplifting transcendence, as the most important element of Imre Égerházi’s world when he wrote an introductory essay for the artist’s album.
“Respecting and clinging to specific elements of reality with the heavy allegiance of childhood, but at the same time at the stations of his artistic development, increasingly elevating this reality to another world of unearthly, ethereal purity and beauty; to the painter’s own spirituality. Égerházi loves his things. He only paints what he has a personal connection with, which triggers the miracle of recognition, so he can also make us recognize the spells of hidden beauties.”
The essayist listed among the best of Imre Égerházi’s oeuvre not only those images from Hajdúság, Hortobágy, but also from Transylvania, which show the slices of the world he has seen and reinterpreted with a compactness typical of ballads, but also with the subtle atmosphere of the poetic elegy of the age.
The simplistic mode of communication has a condensing richness, but in Imre Égerházi’s compositions the lyrical delicacy becomes muscular momentum. While in his paintings the power thickens into a quiet stillness, in his graphics the dynamics sink into lyricism. External movement is indeed seldom perceptible, but the elements of reality edited side by side have a dialogue with each other, their relationship is not random but active. It is not the plot, but the picturesque vision that creates dynamics on the surface, moreover, each motif of Égerházi carries the artist’s relationship with it. The creative, creating spirit moves into the picture, the legacy of centuries and even a series of archaic traditions fit into the present. In the poet-critic’s words: “the deep well of time seeps out” from there. And the picturesque originality can also be traced in the way he organizes these ancient and folk-art motifs, the intellectual and cultural, the literary, artistic heritage, into lively compositions in their mentioned statics, stretching from special internal dynamics.
Imre Égerházi’s totality is also a tonality. This can be interpreted either from the point of view of musicianship or in the sense of fine arts. Belonging to a particular tone is reflected in the pure ringing of folk songs or in the sadness of beautiful ballads, the playful floating of legends and folk tales. This feeling is also reinforced by the fact that his motif or editorial solutions often evoke the Art Nouveau pictorial world.
Lajos Arany wrote the following about the art of Imre Égerházi in his portrait chapter on the art of the Hortobágy Creative Camp up to 1996, entitled Inspiration on the Róna“: “He happily associates the closed editing with the airiness and openness of the pointillists, the traditions of the stylized forms of Art Nouveau with the painting of the Great Plain, which sees monumental dimensions and faithfully conveys real life, and creates a synthesis of individual taste and form.”
It is no coincidence that the mention of Art Nouveau (other critics also highlighted this feature of Imre Égerházi’s art), since at the beginning of the 20th century the greatest intellectual and formal basis of Hungarian Art Nouveau was Hungarian folk art.
In a modernized, or it can be said, in a neo-Art Nouveau way, this editing and use of form also appeared at Imre Égerházi, and even matured into a defining style, and, among other aspects, for example, even the reproduction of the atmosphere of Debrecen served this style as well as the processing of the themes of the Great Plain or Transylvania. However, this perception was not so clear in the artist’s first major era. Roughly until the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the heritage of Nagybánya appeared in the same way as the vision of the realism of the Great Plain, the “neos”, the Cézanne-like color and form usage of the “local wildlings”, however, the somewhat expressive visions of the beginning of the 19th century soon sought some order, so Imre Égerházi’s attention turned more and more towards constructive realism, which disciplined the temperament into a geometry or simplified it into an abstract atmosphere. In fact, the well-outlined intention of the early search for synthesis was already present in this view, and even the brush-striking emphasis of mass boundaries (which applied to a building, a tree, an object abstracting the lines of composition or a human figure) opened up opportunities for formal stylization. Among other works, his painting The Rooftops of Debrecen (1964) also shows signs of this “construction”. The surfaces here are still homogeneous (this is enhanced by the only partially nuanced monocronity, whether he worked with tempera or oil), but by the early 1970s he had at the same time reached the basis of his special Art Nouveau depiction by enriching his motifs in the painting, further enhancing their playful character and (leaving the stylized forms and constructive editing in place) he took the color surface itself into small points and showed innumerable, mutually reinforcing nuances in it. This way, the totality of totality became richer, and the image world of Imre Égerházi, from which we can best identify the artist, was formed. (This duality and the period of the change can be well traced based on the pictures in the exhibition.) Interestingly, in one of his last interviews in December 2000, he himself testified that he “did not strike a new blow in art,” but, as he said, created a unique style from existing ones (impressionism, pointillism, constructivism, cubism, decorativism). Even in abstraction, he always only went as far as he agreed with it. “I try to give back the era and try to be a little modern. I took small steps, never making a complete turn,” he said. Slowly, but always firmly and clearly.
And if we talk about an unyielding Hungarian in his case, we also mean the unyielding man from Hajdúság or the unyielding resident of Debrecen, about whom Zsigmond Móricz wrote so beautifully that the most important peculiarities of the ancient Hungarian race can be discovered in the people of Debrecen.
Speech at the DOTE opening